The new century has not seen a golden age of art so far, but there has been one bright spot: the campaign of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to rehang its major collections in carefully considered exhibitions. These have been consistently exquisite, superb in their scholarship and visual presentation. When they reopened in 2007, the Greek and Roman galleries were universally praised, as were the American galleries two years later. Now it is the turn of the Islamic galleries, which after a decade of planning were reopened last month as the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.
That unwieldy title reminds us that the display of Islamic art has complications raised by no other category of art today. It is the only great artistic tradition with a potent strand of iconoclasm, expressed most recently in 2001 when the celebrated Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan were destroyed by Taliban decree. A culturally assertive Islam has increasingly come to insist that the West needs to treat Islam by the same rules that prevail in the Islamic world. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses (1989) was the first sign of this, and the subsequent stabbings of his translators in Japan (fatal) and Italy showed that the threat was most real. Rather than court such violence, American cultural institutions have chosen to cringe high-mindedly when dealing with Islam, as Yale University did when it censored a scholarly book about the Danish cartoons that sparked murderous riots, removing those cartoons from the book. (It cannot be said enough that the most offensive images were actually Iranian forgeries.)
Surely this explains the cumbersomeness of the title—Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia—which is not a title at all but a table of contents...
|Ancient Buddhist statues go kaboom (for having the effrontery to belong to a different art movement than the Met's galleries from Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia).|